O’Neill backs Sunderland youngsters to shine in Premier League

Martin O’Neill believes Sunderland’s young stars have what it takes to make the step up to the Premier League

martin o'neill
Martin O'Neill replaced Steve Bruce as Sunderland manager in December PA Photos

martin o'neill

Martin O’Neill has backed Sunderland’s young stars to make the step up to the Premier League this season.

The 60-year-old replaced Steve Bruce as Black Cats boss last December and the Northern Irishman’s appointment prompted a turnaround at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland moved clear of the relegation zone.

O’Neill handed former Derry City winger James McClean a sustained run in the first-team, with the Republic of Ireland youngster scoring five goals in 23 league appearances.

And the Sunderland boss continued to place his faith in youth as he brought Jordan Pickford, Ben Wilson, Billy Knott, Louis Laing, John Egan, Ryan Noble, Adam Reed, Craig Lynch, Blair Adams and Roarie Deacon on their pre-season tour of Asia.

And O’Neill has hinted that a number of Sunderland’s upcoming players could feature in the English top flight this season.

“I’ve enjoyed watching the young players train and play, and it was great to get the opportunity to do so,” O’Neill told the Shields Gazette.

“I’ve been with them for quite a few months now, since Christmas time, and it was nice to be in that environment over in South Korea, particularly with them working with the first team.

“I always had it in my mind that the Peace Cup would be a chance to see some of the younger players, and the players who didn’t get to play that much football last season and, in the event, it proved to be exactly that.

“I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen, and in terms of them going on to be Premier League players, I don’t see why not for many of them. I’ve always been under the belief that if you’re good enough, you’ll eventually come through if you’ve got the willpower and desire.

“And I don’t see why that should be any different with this young bunch of players.

“I’ve always thought one or two of them looked very promising but it really is up to them now to start delivering and to start to press for a place.

“We’ve got a number of pre-season games coming up, which will be particularly important for this group of young players. I’m beginning to get to know their ability pretty well now, but they really need to be showing me that they deserve to be in the side.

“And to do that, they’ve got to be showing up impressively in the first-team squad. It really is entirely up to them.”

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